Written by, Ennis Carter
Founder and Executive Director of Social Impact Studios
For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach a class at Peters Valley School of Craft. It’s a weekend intensive called “Crafting Yourself…Online” and it’s all about helping artists share their experience and work with the big, bad world of the internet. Every year has been a great experience. Students have learned that digital technology is a tool just like the handheld ones mastered in their craft. And there have been a lot of “a-ha” moments about connecting to community that helped free them from the common aversion to sharing their work online.
But this year’s class was very different from the last two years. It was more pinpointed and focused on actual making with only a fraction of the time spent on theory. It was more customized so each person excelled at their own individual level. And it was surprisingly more tiring than the years when I think we covered more ground. What was different? It wasn’t the skill level or the willingness of the students. It wasn’t the tools themselves or even the way I taught them. I think the big difference this year was that I had a much deeper understanding of what “The Craft School Experience” is really all about.
For the last year and a half, I have been immersed in a national campaign to promote five craft schools from across the U.S. At Social Impact Studios, we know that the best marketing isn’t marketing at all – it’s mission-work, it’s storytelling and it comes from the true values that are at the heart of every organization and effort. So, when we lead a campaign we always start there to deeply understand what is at the core. What we often discover is that the organizations we work with need to dig deeply to uncover those core elements - especially if it’s a coalition effort – and are refreshingly reminded of the most important things that make their work meaningful. Through several in-person meetings with leaders from Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Peters Valley and Pilchuck, I was lucky to be part of meaningful conversation about the shared values at the heart of this unique educational experience. Values like “respect,” “growth,” “generosity,” and “process,” – among so many others – resonated with me personally and informed the creative direction for a public campaign. Through developing the campaign, visiting schools first-hand to talk with students, teachers and staff, I got to see those values in action and absorb, slowly, the unique qualities that join these schools together.
The class I teach regularly at Peters Valley is designed to be a weekend intensive survey course to help people jump into the world of online communication to share their work and connect with people who may be looking for what they do. It’s a big task because so many people who gravitate toward the world of craft are seeking something deeper, more in-touch, and less superficial than the way most of the internet is used. The approach in the past has been to expose students to a wide variety of outlets and have them dabble and test out options while learning key theory behind how these tools are best used. It’s worked to help people feel a little more comfortable and to “get started.”
But this year, I was determined to help every student MAKE something. Through “The Craft School Experience,” I’ve learned how important that aspect is to sparking interest, creativity and building skill toward mastery. This year, I wanted my students to have a deeper connection that was relevant to their story and come out on the other side with a sense of accomplishment and self-empowerment to keep at the work after the weekend ended. Yes, I did want everyone to build their websites (which they did!) and tap into social media at whatever level was comfortable for them (which they did!), but the driving force for my teaching this year was definitely more grounded in the connection those activities have to each student’s need to share their work with the world – because they had invested the time and love in making it.
It might have been easier just to teach the class the way I had in previous years. But I really couldn’t do that knowing what I know now.
The genie was out of the bottle and I had to transcend the idea that the class was an intensive opportunity to cram lots of info into the heads of people so they would logically understand how to move ahead through this medium. Sure it qualified as “immersion” – but whether it made a lasting impact, I’m not so sure. Instead, I tapped into the true spirit of The Craft School Experience – a value of direct hands-on experience that takes time, focus and tenacity to learn something new and express yourself.
It was a more exhausting weekend for sure this year. New technology of any kind is tough to teach, especially in a short period of time. But, in the end, I’m glad that I made the time for people to make something that was really meaningful to them. Next year will be even better!
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